Congressional offices prepare for cuts

  • Article by: JEREMY HERB
  • Star Tribune
  • January 8, 2011 - 9:19 AM

WASHINGTON - Minnesota's U.S. House representatives will find themselves tightening their own belts in the wake of an overwhelming vote by the Republican-led House to cut its own budget first.

The move will trim about $35million -- a tiny fraction of national spending, but a cut that Republicans and many Democrats say symbolize their intent to ratchet back spending and get the deficit under control.

Among the few dissenters in Thursday's 410-13 vote was Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the only member of the state's delegation to oppose the measure.

"I voted against it in principle," he said. "I object fundamentally to the philosophy of 'starving the beast,' and this 5 percent cut is nothing but a Republican stunt designed to shrink government so that average citizens have less ability to ... hold industry accountable."

Ellison said the trim will hurt representatives' ability to serve their constituents and maintain offices in their home districts. A co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, he said he was disappointed that so many Democrats voted for the cuts. "It's a big mistake when Democrats basically adopt Republican strategies to weaken and diminish the instrumentality of government," Ellison said.

Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., said his office is under budget by more than 5 percent. "Just as we're asking American families and small businesses to tighten their belts, we should be doing the exact same thing," he said.

Ellison said he may need to reduce staff as a result of the cuts, which amount to $75,000 per office out of a $1.5 million annual budget. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., already has cut two jobs from her payroll, according to her office, which was also affected because it had a staffer through the Appropriations Committee.

Other Minnesota delegation members said they won't feel the pinch too much.

Democratic Rep. Tim Walz said he has made a point of returning money at the end of the year. "Our Republican friends don't need to pass more legislative mandates to cut their budget," said Walz spokeswoman Sara Severs. "They could have been doing it on their own."

Congressional offices have wide latitude on how they spend their budget, which covers staff salary, district office rent, mail, travel and other typical office costs. That results in some dramatic spending differences. Paulsen, for instance, spent 26 times as much as Rep. Collin Peterson on "franked mail" that goes to constituents, and 78 times as much on printing, according to the latest 2010 figures available through September. Peterson, however, spent twice as much as Paulsen on supplies and materials.

Both said they ended 2010 under budget. "I'm cheap," Peterson said. "Just because I have money doesn't mean I spend it."

Jeremy Herb • 202-408-2723

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